With this section we conclude the first half of the book of Ecclesiastes. Apart from the heavy dose of imperatives in the last section (5:1-7), most of the first half of Ecclesiastes has been consumed with reflections on various realities and perplexities of life. In this text Qoheleth returns to his reflective mood, as he draws upon samples from life to teach about the futility of an existence consumed with the pursuit of comfort and riches. We have discovered in our studies that 3000 years of history has not changed the landscape of the human heart, so today we deal with the very same issues that faced men of Qoheleth’s time. If there ever was a text that served as an indictment of our culture’s views about money and success, it is this. Indeed we live in a society where people “can’t get no satisfaction,” no matter how much they may try and try.
Qoheleth’s case studies reveal that a life lived in pursuit of material gain is twice spoiled – first in the gaining, and then in the losing. A superficial reading of the text might lead one to gather that the author is merely advocating a simple and moderate lifestyle in response to a life of labor. This is the manner in which many respond to the rat race and life’s pressures to make money – they run to the opposite extreme by joining a cult or living in tents in public parks. But God is at the heart of Qoheleth’s teaching, as he mentions Him no less than six times in the center of this text. Ecclesiastes 5:18 speaks of, “the few days of his life that God has given” man; verse 19 states, “God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil — this is the gift of God;” in verse 20, it is “God” who “keeps [us] occupied with joy in his heart.;“ and finally in verse 2 of chapter 6, God is has the power to withhold joy.
Rather than merely advocating a simple life, Qoheleth’s solution is to find God’s daily provision and rejoice in His gifts of life, food, drink, and work. More than just ‘coping’ or ‘accepting one’s lot in life,’ the Preacher admonishes us to be content and even rejoice in what we have. Charles Simeon said, “There are but two lessons for the Christian to learn: the one is to enjoy God in everything; the other is to enjoy everything in God.” A man’s passions are revealed by what he enjoys; whatever He values, he pursues with his time and energy. In this text the Preacher is both warning us against pursuing wealth and encouraging us to enjoy God’s daily provision. This is not a new concept in Scripture. The danger of pursuing wealth is found in God’s law (Exodus 20:16-17), where the tenth commandment warns, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Read Isaiah 5:8-9, Proverbs 23:4-5, and Proverbs 28:22, to find this teaching repeated in the Prophets and Wisdom literature. The theme is repeated in the New Testament as well – see 1 Timothy 6:6-10,17 and Philippians 4:12-13.
Lord willing, this Lord’s day we will be opening up this text and discuss it in three points: A) People who pursue wealth will not be satisfied (5:8-12; 6:7-9); B) The evil of not enjoying life (5:13-17, 6:1-6); and C) Enjoy God’s daily gifts (5:18-20) – which is the central proposition and conclusion of the text.